How To Make a Proper Manhattan

It's tough to say exactly what the most ordered drink has been over the course of my bartending career. If I had to guess, it’s probably a tie between the Manhattan and the Cosmo (I started slinging drinks at the peak of the Cosmopolitan's popularity. So. Much. Cran!). While the popularity of Negronis and Daiquiris has waxed and waned, the Manhattan seems to have always stayed the course. It's the sort of drink I love to make behind the bar because it's easy to execute, while also allowing endless possibilities for a custom cocktail. Bourbon or rye? What kind of sweet vermouth,  soft or aggressive? Which kind of bitters? Make it perfect? Every time. Bah-dum-dum. (Dad jokes, those are free.)

But before we go getting too fancy, there are a couple things to consider with "simple" drinks. The fewer the ingredients, the more room you have for error. That means you have to measure. I know, I know, what are we doing, baking a pie?! But guess what, proportions are key here. Next, make sure you're using quality ingredients. Just because we're making a cocktail doesn't mean you should use inferior spirits. Especially when we're talking about a cocktail that's really going to showcase the spirit. That's not to say you need to be using *expensive* ingredients, just good quality ones. You can find amazing value in American whiskeys. More on this in a moment though.

Next, make sure you're using good technique and paying attention to detail. You should always stir a Manhattan, the point of which is to chill the drink and dilute it. The cocktail police will not show up at your door if you shake it, but you’ll have to live with the shame and disappointment. And finally, always strain into a chilled cocktail glass if serving it up. That of course means you need to remember to chill the glass before making the drink! 
I will leave you with a few recommendations for spirits. I typically prefer the base spirit in spirit-forward cocktails to be 90 proof or slightly higher, so most suggestions will reflect that. Higher proof means that the base spirit will continue to shine despite the dilution. No need to use anything too fancy, but you certainly can if you want to. And that brings us to vermouth. This is perhaps one of the most neglected ingredients in cocktails in terms of quality. Don't make the mistake of spending all your money on a nice whiskey and then plop in an ounce of Gallo. I invest as much money on my bottle of vermouth as I do my bourbon, sometimes more. After all, it's a third of your cocktail! 

Manhattan Ingredients Starter Set 

Bourbon:  Eagle Rare, Old Forester 100 Proof, Elijah Craig Small Batch

Rye:  Russell's Reserve 6 year, Rittenhouse 100, Sazerac

Sweet Vermouth:  Carpano Antica (notes of vanilla, full bodied), Punt E Mes (aggressive, spicy), Dolin (soft and delicate)

Bitters:  Angostura (classic) or other brand of "aromatic bitter"  & Regan's Orange


Manhattan (Classic, OG)

2 oz bourbon or rye
1 oz sweet vermouth
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters

Traditional garnish: brandied cherry or Luxardo cherry

Add ingredients to a mixing glass, remembering to measure the ingredients with a jigger, then stir with ice until chilled (about 30 seconds should do), strain into a chilled cocktail vessel and garnish with a cherry (or twist if you prefer).

Manhattan (Perfect)

2 oz bourbon on rye
.5 oz sweet vermouth
.5 oz dry vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Traditional garnish: lemon twist

In a mixing glass, stir with ice until chilled (about 30 seconds should do), strain into a chilled cocktail vessel and garnish with a lemon twist, squeezing the oils into the glass.

The Keys to Success!

Oh looky, you've made it so far. You're now on your way to Manhattan-making beast mode! Your reward for staying the course is this little nugget: the key to making a great drink, rather than just a good drink, is to use interesting ingredients that work well together. Try using a new kind of bitters; there's no shortage of new and exciting brands. Experiment with different combinations, taste components separately before mixing them, and be prepared to take risks. On that note, here's a Manhattan variation I quite like. (For another riff, check out my recipe for The Red Handed.)

Manhattan (New School)

2 oz High West Double rye whiskey
1 oz Byrrh*
1-2 dashes each of orange bitters and aromatic bitters

Garnish:  orange twist AND a cherry

In a mixing glass, stir with ice until chilled (about 30 seconds should do), strain into a chilled cocktail vessel and garnish with an orange twist, squeezing the oils into the glass, and a cherry.

*Byrrh is an aromatized, aperitif wine made with quinine. It can be used as a substitute for "classic" sweet vermouth.


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